Two COVID-19 variants found in Northeast Michigan counties

Courtesy Image An illustration of the coronavirus provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ALPENA — A pair of variants of the COVID-19 virus are becoming more common in Northeast Michigan, and residents are urged to continue to act diligently to help limit their spread.

In a press release today, District Health Department No. 4 announced there were 14 confirmed infections of the B.1.429 strain, and a single infection of the B.1.427 in the three-county region it oversees.

The two variants are also known as the California variants, as that is where they were first discovered.

Studies on the two offspring of the original virus are ongoing, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the variants show an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease, which leads to increased hospitalizations, significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.

The press release says a recent surge in infections is beginning to wane, but if the public lets its guard down, another surge is likely because of how easily the new variants spread.

“While we may begin to see a plateau in reported cases, greater circulation of more contagious variants can lead to another spike, especially as the weather warms and we engage in more in-person activities,” Devin Spivey, DHD4 Community Health Director/Epidemiologist said. “Everyone must continue to do their part to prevent COVID-19 from spreading further,”

As of Monday, 43.53% of Alpena County residents 16 or older had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to state data.

Public health experts say at least 70% of residents 16 and older — and perhaps as high as 85% — must get vaccinated before we might reach enough “herd immunity” to consider the coronavirus pandemic over and return to normal life.

The state says 48.90% of Presque Isle County residents,42.60% of Montmorency County residents, and 44.40% of Alcona County residents have been fully vaccinated.

Since February, Northeast Michigan health officials had reported confirmed and suspected infections as one number. A person is suspected infected if they’d been exposed to a confirmed infected person but hadn’t been tested, themselves — such as family members of infected people.

Northeast Michigan public health agencies stopped reporting the number of people recovered from COVID-19, but, based on federal definitions that consider a person living 30 days after infection to have recovered from the disease, The News estimates 1,201 Northeast Michiganders were actively infected — and potentially contagious — on Monday.

A week ago, 1,023 residents were actively infected.

Other key Northeast Michigan COVID-19 statistics:

* As of Monday, 19 COVID-19 patients were admitted at MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena, one of them in intensive care. The hospital was 49% full. State officials watch hospital occupancy rates closely to decide whether to impose new restrictions meant to slow the spread of infection. Since the pandemic’s start in mid-March 2020, public health officials have reported 4,192 Northeast Michiganders infected or probably infected, and 115 related deaths, including a Presque Isle County resident who died while infected over the weekend.


NOTE: The chart shows the percent of Northeast Michiganders 16 and older fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, meaning they’d received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Public health experts say between 70% and 85% of the population 16 and older must be vaccinated to declare the coronavirus pandemic “over” and for us to return to normal life. That is represented in the target line on the chart above.


NOTE: Northeast Michigan public health agencies have reported confirmed and suspected infections as one number since Feb. 18. A suspected infection represents a person who’d been in close contact with an infected person but hadn’t been tested themselves, such as a person who lives with a person confirmed infected.

Those agencies also stopped tracking recoveries after vaccine rollouts began in earnest in early 2021. The number of recoveries represents a News estimate based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definition of “recovered” as an infected person still living 30 days after infection.


NOTE: “Active cases” is a News estimate of the number of currently infected — and potentially contagious — Northeast Michiganders representing cumulative cases minus recoveries and deaths.


NOTE: One of the primary goals of state-mandated coronavirus restrictions has been to prevent hospitals from being overrun with COVID-19-infected patients, so hospital occupancy rates are a key metric state officials use when deciding whether new restrictions are necessary.


Click through the interactive timeline below for a look at how the coronavirus spread throughout Northeast Michigan in its first year.


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